The New York Times reports that more than 76,000 migrants crossed the border without authorization in February – that’s an 11-year high. And that’s despite an increase in prosecutions, harsher detention policies and new controls on would-be asylum seekers.
The Times reports that customs officers are overwhelmed and that “border agents [are] struggling to meet medical needs and thousands of exhausted members of migrant families [are] crammed into a detention system that was not built to house them.”
Lomi Kriel covers immigration for the Houston Chronicle, and says there has been an increase in people illegally crossing the southern U.S. border, but that more of those people are families than in years past.
“Of that 76,000, about 43,000 are families, parents with children, who cross the border illegally,” Kriel says. “That is really the increase that is driving the number.”
She says illegal border crossings by families is going up because of the rules the Trump administration started enforcing last year at ports of entry.
“They’ll only let six or 10 or a few dozen come across ports of entry each day,” Kriel says. “So, as a result, it appears that families are increasingly crossing between the ports of entry to try and make their claims for asylum.”
She says the data released by the Trump administration Tuesday is most likely accurate, even if skeptics may question whether it conveniently supports Trump’s claim that there’s a border crisis that necessitates the building of a wall.
“I think these are real numbers; we’ve been seeing an increase in families coming here for months,” Kriel says. “After the president ended his policy of separating parents and children at the border, that’s when the increase began.”
She says the surge is partly because families are trying to get into the U.S. before the Trump administration enacts any policies that might make it harder for them to cross in the future. She also says children and families are fleeing gang violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which has been going on for years.
In addition, she says the Trump administration claims that the surge is in part because human smugglers are taking advantage of federal law that gives more leeway to people who cross the border with children.
“There’s more limitations in how quickly the administration can deport you,” Kriel says.
Jobs are also attracting migrants to the U.S., according to the Times report, and Kriel agrees.
“All of those reasons are playing a part. Some of them are coming here seeking asylum and some of them are coming here for economic reasons,” Kriel says. “The economy is doing very well in the United States … where that’s not the case in their home countries.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said that El Paso is an epicenter for the surge in migrant families coming to the U.S., and Kriel says that’s true. She says the number of families that have come to El Paso and the Big Bend region increased by 260 percent between July and December of last year.
But she says it’s important to look at the low number of legal asylum cases being processed during the same time period: there’s been a 14 percent increase in people seeking asylum through legal ports of entry versus an over 400 percent increase of people crossing the border illegally.
“Some experts say [it] suggests that they perhaps tried to cross through the port of entry, and perhaps asked for asylum, but weren’t able to and so are being pushed between the ports of entry,” Kriel says.
Written by Caroline Covington.